Friday, January 18, 2019

two docs, one fyre

There are two things I really enjoy in my entertainment life... pop culture and pop culture documentaries.  So when I got the word that Netflix was doing a documentary on Fyre Fest, I was hooked before I saw the first shot.

I checked my Just Watch app on Tuesday and was totally confused, as Hulu showed a documentary called "Fyre Fraud". I wondered if Netflix had loaned it's doc to Hulu for some reason, or maybe I misunderstood which streaming service would have it... nope, turns out, Hulu undercut Netflix and released their own doc a few days before Netflix could.  All's fair in love and docs, I guess (after Netflix bragged on Hulu during the Golden Globes!  Shade!)

Two docs about an event that most people had forgotten about
Here's the set up... In 2017, Fyre Fest was this massive paradise event down on a Bahamian island where thousands of people would converge for two weekends, see musical artists like Blink 182 and Ja Rule, hang out in cabanas and yachts and possibly meet up with the celebs and see lots of "social media influencers".  I am not sure that job existed 10 years ago, but apparently its a thing now.

Influencers like Bella Hadid and hundreds of others posted and promoted, including posting up a simple orange square, then telling people that Fyre Fest was the place to be.  In fact, Kendall Jenner was paid $250K just for posting said square.

But the event itself was a complete fiasco of the highest proportions.  Nothing was built, no musical acts were there, the infrastructure of the island wasn't stable, there was no food and water, barely any plumbing, and those yachts and cabanas turned out to be wet mattresses inside of FEMA tents that were left from Hurricane Matthew. Hundreds of teens and millennials and up were stranded on this small island with no place to go and no way to get home. And it got ugly fast.

So I saw "Fyre Fraud", the Hulu doc, first.  And it is fantastic.  Focusing on William McFarland, who was the man behind Fyre Fest, it follows him from his early days as a scam artist up until he was making real money conning people. And it all led to promising 1000s of people that the biggest concert around would take place in the Caribbean, with all the big names and social media influencers you could imagine... and it was both sad and hilarious at the same time, watching the Fyre Fest team shake their heads about the impossible position they were put in.

This one orange square posted and reposed 1000s of times helped sell out
Fyre Fest, including selling yacht and beach home spaces that didnt exist
Hulu seems to not only point a finger at Billy McFarland, but also a few of his associates, including the Jerry Media group he partnered with, and even some to rapper Ja Rule, who was involved as well. Another thing that has some people irked with Hulu was that they paid him to appear in their doc, but to me, it was worth it to watch him look so uncomfortable on camera, and say a lot of things without saying really anything at all -- he is obviously well rehearsed in how to dance around answers and never admit to anything. In short, he is a total scumbag.

So then, Netflix releases it's documentary today (Friday Jan 18), and I'm pretty much pumped as can be for it. Officially titled "FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened", it was actually made in conjunction with Jerry Media.  That did send up a red flag to me, as how unbiased can it be if the people in one documentary are helping to tell the story in the other?

Well, the Netflix doc (also fantastic) points it's Spotlight of Blame directly at Billy McFarland and doesn't let up. It jumps right into the Fyre Fest planning, starting 5 months before the festival.  Keep in mind that festivals of these size takes a year, maybe 2 years to put together, and that's likely after a plan is already in place.... McFarland thought he could do it in 5 months, and that's as he was shopping for an island to purchase.  Yes, this dude thought of the festival first, started promoting it, then went to buy an island for it. (purchasing an island once owned by Pablo Escobar. Yep. That's a true story)

Because you know it's a disaster, you watch with a sense of anticipation, knowing this house of cards that McFarland is trying to build is about to crash, but you just aren't sure exactly when... and it gets worse than you'd think. To the point where one of McFarland's assistants was instructed to go meet with a Bahama official to get a trailer full of bottled water released, and was told to... well, take one for the team and do something pretty unbelievable to get that water. It's mind blowing how many bad decisions, either knowingly or not, were made in this thing.

Both docs give you time frames of "5 months until..." and "6 weeks until...." and "5 days until..." and you just marvel at all the things that aren't done and won't be completed -- and how McFarland just keeps moving forward.

He wasn't featured in the Netflix doc, but his partners were, and they all tell the tale of how promising it sounded but how it quickly became unfathomable that it would happen. Netflix's "Fyre" is much more in depth than Hulu's "Fire Fest", not only in what happened on that island...

(one attendee talked about how when the sun went down, "the camaraderie was over", the looting began, tents on fire and so on. And honestly, I am shocked that neither documentary mentioned anything about sexual assault... either it didn't happen, or they just didn't report that)

...but also what happened legally when it call came crashing down .

(cut to Billy sitting in a massive NYC penthouse, with a small staff, sending out emails to people to sell them VIP passes to things like MET Gala, Victoria's Secret fashion ship, and meet n greets with Taylor Swift... it's important to note that the MET Gala is invite only, Victoria's never has VIP passes and TayTay doesn't do meet n greets.)

Someone in the Netflix doc makes the point
that it took 100s of models and celebs posting
an orange square to build Fyre Fest, but only
one picture of a cheese sandwich to bring it
all crashing down. 
After discussion the documentary on social media, I'm a little surprised on how many people have never heard of Fyre Fest, as it was a massive story in 2017.

Admittedly, I knew little about it as it led up to the event, because I didn't pay any attention to Bella Hadid or any Jenner or Kardashian or anyone else you could call a Social Media Influencer, so both of these movies really helped tell the story, both in their own way.  You could layer them atop one another and you'd get mostly different interviews with much of the same perspective. Hulu has one of the island workers who was trying to spearhead construction, while Netflix talks to one of the local restaurant owners.  The owner of the now infamous Twitter account @FyreFraud (his name escapes me) was in both movies, telling the same type of tales.

Both movies also show you the sheer power of social media, and the power of its users... when reports began to leak out about Fyre Fest, including the infamous picture of the cheese on toast, which really solidified everyone's fears and suspicions that Fyre Fest was truly a fraud.

Plus the ugly side of social media comes out when post after post is shown of people reveling in the misery of "rich kids", some of which sold all of their possessions,  their cars, quit their jobs and cashing out college funds  to come to the Bahamas.  As comedian Ron Funches says, "If you had $1000s of dollars to go on a trip to see Blink 182, that's on you.  That's Darwinism at it's finest." Indeed.

If I had a preference, I'd pick Netflix's version, only because it is deeper and more in-depth about the festival itself, but I loved how Hulu gave you the backstory on McFarland's previous scams, including the creation of Magnesis, which Netflix barely touches on.

See the both if you can.

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